There is really only one month a year that NFL football is not happening, and it just ended. Players returned for the start of training camp today, and reporters returned from their vacations on Monday with a bunch of interesting articles.
NFL referees returned, too, and ate a bit of crow. A year ago, they insisted that no new coach was going to push the tempo of the game, clearly referring to Chip Kelly. This year, the officials themselves went through a tougher physical assessment to make sure they could keep up with the faster pace.
As the game evolves, we must make sure that that third team, the officials, that they’re evolving as well. You see the likes of Coach Kelly and that high tempo offense, they’re running rapid plays. That ball needs to be spotted rapidly, and we want to make sure that our officials are now also evolving to that pace of our game.”
There have not been too many mishaps among Eagles players this summer, though Lane Johnson‘s long-expected four-game suspension for PEDs was finally announced. He stated that it was for a prescription medication on the banned list, and he took full responsibility for not informing the team’s trainers or checking the forbidden list (apparently, this mistake was twice as bad as Baltimore’s Ray Rice knocking out his girlfriend in a public elevator; Rice only got a two-game suspension).
Backup Allen Barbre played very well against Green Bay last year when Jason Peters got injured and is expected to replace Johnson for the games. The schedule is fairly forgiving, with three easy games during that stretch (given that Colts LB Robert Mathis is also suspended). The game against the 49ers on the road — already a toss-up at best – will be much tougher, though.
The remaining incidents have been very minor, especially by NFL standards. Keelan Johnson was already a long shot to make the team this year at cornerback. Well, he’s a much longer shot now after getting arrested in Arizona — where he played for ASU — outside a nightclub. Johnson allegedly hassled a policeman who was arresting his friend. Alcohol may have been involved.
Miscommunication was certainly involved in his court appearance, where the judge seemed to think he was in the Army and needing to get to boot camp, not training camp. The incident is not likely to go over well in the Philadelphia front office, where Kelly has been emphasizing character, sleep and hydration for his players.
Earlier, reserve linebacker Jake Knott was also suspended for PEDs. But that’s about it.
No controversial comments. No arrests. With DeSean Jackson gone, there aren’t even any provocative Instagram photos of partying hard with “models and bottles” or hand shapes that may or may not be gang signs. Even Evan Mathis‘s famed Twitter feed has been mild, after his great mid-June “rookie dinner tab” hoax that got press pundits howling about bullying before they caught on.
And that’s the way Kelly likes it. Boring. Just a lot of big, fast guys lifting weights together, working out and raising money for some charities here and there.
So what are the writers saying? Predictably, they’re a bit more reflective, either digging deeper into schemes than usual, or looking at some of the more human or philosophical aspects of the team.
Sheil Kapadia broke down the Eagles’ Inside Zone and then got deep into analyzing the team’s Cover 3 defense, which combines aspects of zone and man coverage. Villanova Coach Brian Flinn, a longtime FishDuck contributor, helped him get the nuances squared away.
Dan Klausner reviewed the first 15 plays of each game to show the fast starts the Eagles got off to last year. That’s interesting, because I remember Chip’s Duck teams were often slow to start, like a Maserati with a fickle motor that takes a while to warm up, but eventually blasts off.
Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer had an interesting and somewhat odd portrait of Chip Kelly as an open-minded stickler. Definitely a must-read. He really doesn’t want players taking shortcuts across the grass on the way into the NovaCare Center. Why? McLane has Jerry Azzinaro and Josh Huff explain it to the new team. Huff: It means “don’t take any shortcuts in life, and always do the right thing even though the wrong thing might get you to the door quicker.”
Rich Hoffman of the Daily News had an excellent column on Chip’s unpredictability, and skill at improvisation (which the Ducks might be missing a little bit).
“He is the Narrative Killer, the assassin of the preconception. Of that much, we can be certain. The most frivolous exercise in Philadelphia sports journalism is to ask Kelly a question whose premise presumes that the questioner knows what the coach is thinking. It really is a complete waste of time. Halfway through the question, or earlier, Kelly begins to smile as he listens to what is being presumed in the preamble before the question mark. The smile is the dead giveaway, that he is going to pull out a baseball bat from behind the podium and put the question (and sometimes, the head of the questioner) on a tee and launch him into the third deck.”
And Chip himself gets the last word, speaking to a roundtable of beat reporters as he does once a year. The most important part was on the dangers of complacency, a concern that explains (in part) the surprising release of Jackson. Djax had a career year in Kelly’s offense, but:
“The Eagles wondered what the numbers would have been had Jackson used every ounce of effort to showcase his considerable talents. Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. There was sentiment that, had he done a better job of preparation he could have challenged Calvin Johnson‘s NFL single-season record of 1,964 receiving yards.”
The team is quietly being reshaped with players — such as rookie Jordan Matthews, who is second-to-none in his hustle – who have the team attitude Kelly craves. Some will argue that is goody-two-shoes stuff that will be crushed by raw, nasty, diva talent. We’ll see.
Meanwhile the team is working together, improving a little bit every day as Chip preaches. Over time the little bits add up. Last summer, with new coaches, players and entirely new offensive and defensive schemes, the Birds ran 18-20 plays during the team portion of practices. This year? They’re getting in 30. Because good isn’t good enough and you can always get better. As Chip said,
“I think if you’re content with 10 wins and winning the division you’re probably shortchanging yourself and the team. We did that. What’s the next step? How can we improve upon that?”
At Oregon, Coach Kelly used to say, “Every game is the Super Bowl.” If he keeps the Eagles this focused, it will be more than a metaphor before long.
Top photo by Zennie Alexander